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When IT met OT: Surviving the digital transformation

Feb. 18, 2020
Thomas Wilk says it may take time, patience, and more time to weather digital change.

“When it rains, it pours cats and dogs.”

This quotation is one of my favorite descriptions of change. It may be a mixed metaphor, but for me it captures the moment where a person’s good humor takes over in the face of something new and overwhelming, and they commit to going with the flow.

From the Editor

This article is part of our monthly From the Editor column. Read more from Thomas Wilk.

By now you’ve heard and read a lot about the changes that digitization and Industry 4.0 are bringing to industry. Yet if we look beyond the hype, I think by now each of us has at least one story of how data is improving the ways we make decisions at work.

These stories were in high abundance at the annual ARC Industry Forum, which took place in Orlando, FL the first week of February. The official event theme was “Driving Digital Transformation in Industry and Cities,” but after hearing several powerful keynotes and sitting in on the track sessions, an unofficial theme emerged: “How Our Teams Stopped Worrying, and Learned to Love the IoT.” In case study after case study, presenters explained how even the most skeptical workers embraced the value of digital technology to stay competitive and break down internal silos.

In fact, the opening keynote was an object lesson in improved workplace collaboration, with two senior executives from Dow speaking together in a back-and-forth tag team format. Melanie Kalmar, Dow’s CIO/CDO, shared how IT initially perceived Dow’s manufacturing teams to be undisciplined and drawn far too easily to new technologies. She then explained how she and her team gradually came to appreciate the extent to which Dow IT took a broad, enterprise-wide approach to leveraging digital technology, and how alien it was to them that Operations teams required a more custom approach to technology implementation, especially site to site and between different production lines.

For his part, Peter Holicki, Dow’s senior VP of operations, manufacturing, and engineering, said that his doubts were erased once he saw how closer collaboration with IT could improve turnarounds and safety, as well as help secure the latest mobile and wireless technology to support new condition monitoring instruments. He now estimates that Dow creates 20 billion data points per day from their worldwide plants, a digital achievement that was possible only through successful collaboration with IT.

Kalmar offered some insightful summary points at the end of the session. First, she said, in retrospect, she would have sent IT teams out to Operations a lot sooner, to get a better understanding of their needs. Second, she observed that success does not happen without alignment at the top; and that, once aligned, executives need to repeat, repeat, repeat the strategy to ensure that alignment extends through the entire organization.

Ultimately, Dow’s experience proved out a quotation that is a companion to the one above: “Every storm runs out of rain.”

About the Author

Thomas Wilk | editor in chief

Thomas Wilk joined Plant Services as editor in chief in 2014. Previously, Wilk was content strategist / mobile media manager at Panduit. Prior to Panduit, Tom was lead editor for Battelle Memorial Institute's Environmental Restoration team, and taught business and technical writing at Ohio State University for eight years. Tom holds a BA from the University of Illinois and an MA from Ohio State University

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